Out of the blue, my 21-year-old son, Brendan, recently home from a four-month backpacking adventure, asked me, “When was the last time you went clubbing?”
“You mean going out to a nightclub?” I asked. “Not since before I had kids.”
“Mum, let’s go to the Vinyl next Friday – I bet you wouldn’t last 10 minutes.”
“Excuse me? Just because I’m a grandmother doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a night on the town. In fact, last week, your dad and I were downtown right in the middle of the action.”
I silently recalled throngs of hormone-infused young people lined up on sidewalks, blowing smoke at one another, police sirens in the background.
“Mum, you were driving past in the car.”
Right. Would I be able to last 10 minutes at a nightclub? Or would I be caught in the crossfire of a gang war, an innocent grandmother lying on the dance floor in a pool of blood and beer?
I stopped my runaway paranoia, the sad result of parenting through the teenage years, in time to realize that this was the first time my son had ever asked me out. He actually wanted to spend time with me, his mother.
“Okay, you’re on.” I said. “But I want to be home by midnight.”
He gave me a funny look, but agreed.
Not long ago, we went through seven years of estrangement when my son would have rather chewed worms than acknowledge my presence in his life. During that awful time, I saw myself through Brendan’s eyes as a worrier, a nag, an idiot and a bore. Of course, through my eyes, I was a caring, pro-active parent and an intelligent, interesting woman.
This dichotomy led to my efforts at communication and advice being met with a blank stare, a grunt or the outburst “Get off my back!” I was unworthy and invisible at best and a plague on his life at worst.
On the teen spectrum, this was not illegal or dangerous behaviour, for which I was grateful. But, as a parent who had enjoyed a close relationship in the early years of Brendan’s upbringing, I felt a loss. I didn’t know how to fix it. More experienced parents told me to wait a few years. “He’ll come back,” they said.
They were right, because now it seemed my son finally wanted to discover the real me.
To ease this task, Brendan invited a few others: his girlfriend and her mother, aunt and uncle. That’s two young people to four middle-aged boomers. With those demographics, I felt comforted as we headed down to the club at about my usual bedtime.
There was no lineup. “Much too early,” Brendan explained. Two bouncers scrutinized us. They frisked Brendan and scanned his driver’s licence. They didn’t ask me for ID. I raised my arms for the frisking, but they merely laughed and waved the old gal through. Bonus – it was ladies night so there was no cover charge for me or the other women. That was some consolation for not being frisked or asked for ID.
We stepped inside, right into the groovy seventies. It was dark, except for rotating disco balls, strobe flashes and black lights that made everything white glow. The only white I was wearing were the wads of tissues I had stuffed in my ears in anticipation of a major assault on my hearing. I hoped they weren’t glowing.
Brendan was the perfect date. He bought me a gin and tonic. Our group sat in a dark corner booth near the dance floor. The DJ fed a steady stream of thumping, booming, remixed fare into the amplifier. The floor came alive. I noticed that dance partners were a thing of the past. It was everyone for himself (or herself, as the ladies night recruits greatly outnumbered the men).
We finished our drinks. I shouted into Brendan’s ear that 10 minutes had long passed. I had won our bet. Unfortunately, we hadn’t established a prize when we made the bet. But my unacknowledged reward was finally being allowed into my son’s world. It had been a long wait.
We headed for the dance floor, claimed our spot and planted our feet, which was easy because the floor was sticky from splashed drinks. The beat of the music was easy to follow. It pounded its way straight through our chests. We got into it.
At some point, the air filled with smoke. Wait, that wasn’t smoke. It was mist from a machine, perhaps designed to mimic that hazy nightspot look of yesterday. How ironic, I thought. In my youth, we non-smokers headed outside for gulps of fresh air and a break from the cigarette soup. Today, we avoid the sidewalks, because that’s where the smoke is, and can’t wait to get inside.
During our three hours of dancing, Brendan gave me a few looks of approval. Mother and son were having a great time together. A page had been turned. It dawned on me that I have to be careful not to turn the pages back, not to revert to being the parent, but rather to nurture a new relationship. Adult to adult.
Well past midnight, our group decided to find food. We headed to a Chinese restaurant with the good business sense to stay open for the after-clubbers.
Finally able to carry on a conversation, I removed the tissue from my ears. We all agreed over chow mein and chop suey that it had been a fun night. There was talk of doing it again. I’m all for it.
Anne Lofting lives in Calgary.